One hundred five times, I have put words to paper, creating this casual column discussing and describing the ever-amazing natural world around us. I have usually worked to maintain a third-person distance in the columns, wanting the columns to be about wildlife and wild things, not about me. This paragraph is an exception, as this will be my last Wild News column; I am transferring to a new and exciting opportunity with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Homer, Alaska. While Fish and Wildlife Service staff may come and staff may go, the issues at hand endure: the wonders of nature, our role in the natural world, the need for kids to experience the pleasures of outdoor activities, and our responsibility to tend this marvelous planet we call home.
While each Wild News column over the last nine years has been about some specific natural resource phenomenon, in the end, each column was really about the same thing: the relationship people have with the land. Our relationship with the land surely must be the most fundamental yet misunderstood application of ecology. While it is easy to say, it is hard for most people to fully grasp: how we treat the land affects each of us profoundly. Whether you live in town or on a farm, New York City or New York Mills, the things we do to the land, the things we do on the land, and the things we do for the land dictate our quality of life, the abundance of wildlife, the health of our lakes, the frequency of floods, and even the characteristics of the water we drink.
Do you want clean rivers? Take care of the land. Want fertile, productive soils? Take care of the land. Less flooding? More wildlife? Swimmable lakes? Take care of the land.
The tough part is that there is never a single land use decision that is clearly identifiable as the one that makes a huge difference. Instead, it is the accumulated effects of billions of decisions made by millions of people that affect us profoundly. These land use decisions are made every day by all of us: homeowners, renters, farmers, gardeners - regular people in towns, cities, and farms across the country. How we treat our lawns, gardens, farms, and parks; what food buying decisions we make; our tendency to grab a can of convenient pesticide as a first choice rather than a last resort: all directly or indirectly influence the land we live on and thus the quality of the world around us. Here in farm country, a special significance relates to agricultural land use decisions simply because such a large percentage of the land is devoted to agricultural production. Whether we are farm producers or farm consumers, we are all affected by the land use decisions made on farms.
Whether your interest in wildlife is primarily as a hunter, bird watcher, photographer, or business person, the message is the same. Even if you don't especially value wildlife but are interested in controlling floods or retaining good quality water for drinking water supplies, the message is the same. The quality of our air, our water, our wildlife, the very quality of our own lives: it is all inextricably linked to the way we treat the land on which we live. When we recognize the fundamental connection between land use and our own quality of life, we are more likely to make informed decisions which better meet our needs.
Featured WPA: Baumann Waterfowl Production Area, Big Stone County
Baumann Waterfowl Production Area is a modest sized but very productive unit just west of Clinton. This 80-acre WPA is a good demonstration of the relevance of landscape setting in the productivity of public land. Baumann WPA includes a few large and a few small wetlands, but is surrounded by a landscape containing many more wetlands, many of them permanently protected by a Fish and Wildlife Service easement. Because the whole surrounding landscape contains good habitat, Baumann WPA attracts more waterfowl and is more productive than it would be were it surrounded exclusively by drained and intensively farmed land.
A researcher studying duck nesting issues found many nests on Baumann WPA this year, and a higher proportion of them were successful on this site than on the average site. Part of the research is designed to tell us why some areas are better than others. Baumann WPA would be a good place to observe waterfowl in the early morning or late evening in the large wetlands visible from adjacent road.
For a map of Baumann WPA or any other WPA in the Morris district, go to http://midwest.fws.gov/ Morris.